The University of Miami opened a new chapter of Hurricanes football Tuesday, with all eyes on the quarterback.
Make that quarterbacks.
Under skies thick with humidity and temperatures in the 90s, three new quarterbacks — graduate transfer Jake Heaps and true freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier — joined redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen on Day One of the biggest battle of camp.
But with Olsen out for the first game at Louisville because of a suspension that he and coaches won’t discuss, and fifth-year senior Ryan Williams in attendance but still rehabilitating from ACL surgery, that left the 23-year-old veteran Heaps as the man to beat.
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At least on Tuesday.
The marketing buzzword for this season’s Hurricanes is “Renewed,” but it might as well be “New” when it comes to the men behind center.
“We’re just going to let them compete,” said UM offensive coordinator James Coley before the 3 p.m. practice, which was delayed about 40 minutes because of lightning mixed with rain. “We’re not frustrated. We’ll let them play it out.”
Heaps, who spent the past two seasons at Kansas and the first two at BYU, was designated the first-team quarterback in his first official practice as a Hurricane. His on-field bodyguards: left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Jon Feliciano, a leaner center Shane McDermott, right guard Danny Isidora and Shane’s very large “little” brother, Kc, at right tackle.
Heaps looked decent enough, despite one interception by linebacker Jermaine Grace, but the players were padless in shorts, jerseys and helmets. Coley pointed to various quarterbacks getting the brunt of reps with the first team on any given day early in camp.
Coley sounded impressed with Heaps, though it has been through their off-the-field summer work. And for fans mesmerized by the thought of four-star All-American Kaaya winning the starting job, Coley said his philosophy would not discount that possibility.
“The redshirting deal has changed a lot in the last few years,” Coley said. “If you’re ready to come in and play, you play. … If either one [Kaaya or Rosier] is the best guy, we’ve got no choice.”
Kaaya certainly looked the part Tuesday with no defenders down his throat, completing several precise passes with impressive form. Coley said he “looks good” and called him “a sharp kid.”
“He’s very intelligent,” Coley said. “He has poise. You feel like you’re talking to a 30-year-old.”
Kaaya’s completions included a 35- to 40-yard beauty down the left side to Rashawn Scott for a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills. He also was intercepted by cornerback Artie Burns.
As for Olsen, he, too, looked good on the field but was clearly tense speaking to reporters before practice, knowing that his reported suspension for failing a drug test was on everyone’s mind.
He was asked what it was like going through his ordeal and suspension.
“I’m not going to comment on that. I’m looking forward to getting ready for camp.”
Does he expect to play against Louisville?
“I have no comment on that,” he said.
He said he is “very confident” he can control the offense and do his part.
“That’s why I came here,” Olsen said. “I’ve never thought for a minute that I couldn’t be the guy.”
Running back Duke Johnson, who didn’t seem to hold back in his return from a broken ankle, said he and the other Canes will “bring [Olsen] along.”
“We let him know he’s not in this by himself and we just help him through his one-game suspension by being great teammates,” Johnson said.
Olsen’s reaction to the arrival of Heaps, who has started 25 games in college: “More competition. I figured that they would take another guy with a lot of starts and have him come in here, compete and help us. I think that was a good thing for us, for me especially.
“… All of us in the quarterback room, from the freshmen to me to Ryan and Jake, we all have a good chemistry.”
Heaps was reminded how awkward this whole quarterback situation seems, with him being new and yet a veteran, and Williams recuperating and Olsen suspended. Is it awkward for him in particular?
“You know, I think that’s a question everybody has wanted to ask,” Heaps said. “It’s a great question. It definitely could be. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic that is going on right now. But it has gone extremely well, and that’s a testament to the group of guys that are in that quarterback group — all great guys, all guys that understand the situation and just are focused on getting better individually.”